Camping Safely With Kids
If you’re planning to pitch a tent on your next family vacation, these tips will come in handy
Camping is a great get-away-from-it-all way to spend time with your family — as long as you know how to stay safe and sane. “If it’s too much work and stress you won’t want to return,” says Jennifer Aist, author of “Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping and Boating with Babies and Young Children.”
Here are some tips for pulling off a safe family camping trip that’s fun for all.
Related: Road Trip Checklist for Your Car
Scope out the campsite in advance
Do some research to create a list of campsite candidates. On-line reviews are worth checking out, but word-of-mouth is even better, Aist says. Ask around in person or post on social media that you’re in search of a good family campsite. Who knows? A friend of a friend may be a camping aficionado.
Make sure, though, that you get recommendations from other parents whose kids are around the same age as yours. They’re more likely to notice pros and cons that are relevant to you and your brood.
If you’re planning to go to a public campground (rather than pitching a tent in the woods somewhere), check out the campground’s website if it has one. Even better, if it’s nearby, visit before you commit to staying there. Here are some things to look for — and look out for — at a family campground.
- Plenty of other kids. This will tell you that the site has passed other parents’ standards. It also means potential playmates for your own little campers.
- Convenient restroom facilities. This is especially important if you have very young children who are still in diapers or being potty-trained.
- Paved roads. If you’re bringing along trikes and bikes, pavement will make for safer riding. You’ll also have less dirt to contend with after your kids zoom around.
- Kid-friendly activities and facilities. You want your children to experience the natural world, but in ways that are safe and age-appropriate. Aist notes that some campgrounds have short trails that are specifically designed for toddlers and little kids. “Many campgrounds have Ranger Rick-type programs at night that are great for little kids,” she adds.
Keep an eye out for potential dangers, such as a nearby river or lake or steep cliffs. Don’t overlook subtler red flags. For example, are there motorboat launches? That may not be the campground for you if you’re hoping for a quiet getaway. Besides the noise of the boats, Aist has noticed that folks who are into motorsports often like to party into the night.
Setting up camp
Once you’ve found your spot, use these pointers for playing it safe while camping with kids.
Pack it up. Bring clothing that’s appropriate for whatever weather conditions might occur where you’re going. Keep in mind that there may be a significant drop in temperature when the sun goes down. Include extra sweaters, jackets and blankets.
Don’t forget sunscreen, hats and insect repellent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says bug sprays that contain 20 percent DEET will protect against pests like mosquitoes for several hours. It’s also a good idea to spray clothing with a repellant that contains permethrin as well. This will help keep ticks away. So will wearing long sleeves and pants if you’ll be in the woods.
A well-stocked first aid kit is essential, according to kidshealth.org. Don’t forget any medications that you or your kids take regularly. Make sure you have enough and that you have a way to refrigerate any drugs that need to stay cold.
Also important is some sort of attention-getting device, such as a whistle, in case a child wanders off. Teach kids the universal help signal: three blows in a row. Aist attached bells to her kids’ clothing until they were 6 years old.
Make meals easy. While camping you’ll want to spend as little time as possible planning and preparing meals. This is as much a safety issue as a convenience, says Aist. “Accidents tend to happen when parents are busy setting up camp and cooking meals,” she explains. “That’s when kids get hurt or burned.” So if you’re planning to serve spaghetti in meat sauce one night, say, make the sauce in advance.
To store foods safely, the CDC recommends packing it in tightly sealed waterproof containers and keeping those in an insulated cooler. Store raw and cooked foods separately. If you plan to grill burgers or other protein, bring along a meat thermometer to make sure you cook them to a safe internal temperature.
Every campground has specific regulations for storing and disposing of food in order to not attract critters. For tent campers one rule is universal: no eating in the tent. Not even snacking. It’s the only way to keep out ants as well as bigger, more dangerous wildlife.
Have water, water everywhere. Bring along plenty of fresh water — to drink, cook with, even wash hands with. (Hand sanitizer is a good idea as well.)
Light up safely. If you’re camping in a tent, be aware that guy lines — those skinny cords that hold up the tent — can be a tripping hazard, especially at night. Keep them visible in the dark by tying a glow stick to each one.
Never use gear that burns fuel inside a tent, camper or other enclosed space, warns the CDC. Gas stoves, heaters, lanterns and charcoal grills can all give off carbon monoxide, which can cause illness or even death.